(This is a maxi-post)
Some days back I was chatting with a friend about the media. Towards the end of the discussion we were talking about “incremental changes” happening in the media but we had run out of time and couldn’t take it further. Although it seems like a minor mention the issue of incremental change is an important one which affects almost all policies in our country. Big changes don’t happen incrementally, they happen dramatically through choice or by circumstances. This incrementalism has seeped so deep into our decision-making process that even minor extensions of FDI are referred to as “Big Bang” by the media. A decision to hike rail fares is being termed “reforms” by some. In reality, incrementalism doesn’t change much for anyone. The Radiagate incident, dramatic as it was, hasn’t brought about too many changes in the media. In fact, nothing at all! The same tainted people carry on with their propaganda work. Our lawmakers and govt have also chosen to completely turn a blind eye to Radiagate. Incrementalism requires sustenance and bad habits have a great gravitational force about them. They tend to pull us back to the same situation over and over again.
Incremental changes require sustenance and if there are repeated events and incidents that disrupt such sustenance, the desired change will never happen. Clearing all the clutter from your drawers in one shot is a dramatic or radical change. But to keep it neat and orderly requires a good habit. When that fails, the drawers return to clutter in no time at all. The gravitational pull of habits is quite powerful. It requires the power of a rocket to shoot out of such gravitational pull. That is called dramatic or radical change. Ever met a smoker who said he will quit? Ever heard him say he will cut down slowly and finally quit in a month? Has it ever happened? At the most he may have cut down a few smokes but unlikely he would have quit. But if he runs into trouble and sees the doctor who tells him “You smoke another pack and you’re dead” then that’s a dramatic insight about his health that could force him to quit. The quitting doesn’t happen incrementally, it mostly happens radically.
Rajdeep Sardesai (RS) is now leading an Image-makeover campaign for CNN-IBN. For the last two months he and other anchors at his channel have been screaming they are changing. They’re telling us CNN-IBN is about “News, not noise! Sense, not sensationalism! Intelligent, not extreme”! Nice! They are trying to raise the BAR of journalism as RS himself says. Well, who got you to the bottom in the first place? It now dawns upon RS that in the game of noise and sensationalism someone else turned up who played the game better. So RS now wants to choose a moral path of upright journalism. This is not voluntary change, this is change forced by circumstances. Even this is merely incremental. Forgive me, but any channel that has Sagarika Ghose cannot even remotely claim they’re NOT in the “noise” business. Sacking her would imply dramatic change but I doubt RS really wants change. And sack her not because she is noisy, but she is not really a journalist who measures up to any BAR. He just wants you to think better of him and his channel. Here’s what RS wrote in February 2013 (edited excerpts) Making sense of sensationalist TV journalism: (A word of caution: I am using RS’s quotes because he talked about change but this is not to single him out, his quotes are used for the whole media).
In 1998, there was only one 24x7 news network. Today, there are more than 300 round the clock news channels, carnivorously devouring every morsel of news, the noisier the better… News has been replaced by noise, sense by sensationalism, history by histrionics; the medium is the same but the message has drastically changed.
It is convenient to forget the misdeeds of that ONE 24X7 channel that RS talks about. The BAR set by the members of that channel have contributed to degeneration of TV news. What RS doesn’t acknowledge is that now there a million eyes watching over these noise-mongers. It’s commonly called “Social Media”. Even today RS and his gang of noise-mongers refuse to accept a watchdog that will ensure they maintain quality standards. RS still believes he is still his own best policeman. And so does the BAR.
Take the recent Indo-Pak fracas at the Line of Control. The dastardly beheading of an Indian soldier and Pakistan's reflexive denial rightly led to indignation in the country. But when justifiable anger threatens to turn into uncontrolled jingoism in TV studios, to the point where the Indian government is forced to send back Pakistani hockey players, stop trade relations and almost rupture diplomatic ties, then we must ask ourselves whether war-mongering hysteria is what must define the media's collective responsibility.
I have always said there are two RSs; one on TV and the other off it. The one off it sometimes thinks profoundly like a monk. I agree, stopping hockey games is a knee-jerk reaction. But RS doesn’t ask the question why we started hockey, cricket or any other relations with Pakistan in the first place. The reason we fail to deal with Pakistan is the same incremental crap with which RS hopes to change the image of his channel. Even so, if RS is really serious he should first look at the hypocrisy within his own group. His water-less Holi sermon for ordinary people and his deputy rollicking in a swimming pool should tell him something. The comic duo never fails.
Let’s see, 65 years, 3 wars, number of major and minor skirmishes, LOC beheadings, terror attacks, hijackings, bombings and we are still worried about hockey games. Where have all the incremental steps taken us with Pakistan? First we said peace and cricket. Then more wars. We said peace and cricket. Then came terror attacks and ethnic cleansing in Kashmir and other places. We said peace, let’s play cricket. Mumbai 26/11 and we exchange dossiers and the media starts “Aman Ki Asha”. We say peace, let’s play cricket. We say let’s build confidence building measures (CBMs). Bollywood says let’s get some Paki dancers on our shows, let’s play cricket. And I have lost count of all the morons who never stop saying “peepull to peepull contact”. Our media says let’s frequently suck up to war-criminal Musharraf and maybe we will get peace. Let’s play cricket. Ever seen anything more incrementally foolish about a nation? When it comes to Pakistan, India too is like that smoker who says he will cut down slowly and quit. It has never worked. Incrementalism in tough situations gets you nowhere.
RS talks about 1998. Imagine, around that time there was no Google. The arrival of Google dramatically changed the world. The Yahoos and MSNs may have gotten better incrementally but Google brought dramatic change through innovation. Then followed Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and a host of other innovations, people changed, not the MSM. RS and news channels did not change. It’s the world around them that changed and forced introspection on him. Can he admit that honestly? Can he take his message of change to all the other crooks in his own Hammam? I doubt it. They don’t want change, they want to “appear” better. Try ‘Fair & Handsome’.
In the unfortunate incident in Kashmir involving an all-women band, did we make enough of an effort to seek out the voices of reason and moderation or does it suit us to paint every Kashmiri with the brush of religious extremism? A fulminating Asiya Andrabi-like anti-India figure fits a stereotype we wish to create of the average Kashmiri; the voices of young Kashmiris who express solidarity with the girls get blanked out.
When you assess the problem itself wrongly, you are bound to end up a Don Quixote. The Kashmir girl-band issue didn’t start now. It started it 1989 when the govt allowed extremists and terrorists to displace lakhs of its residents. It started when the media for over 2 decades continued to ignore the plight of refugees in their own land and still do. They empowered extremists by sending them a message that the Fiberals in the media will cover up their crimes and allow them to play victim. It has gone so far that the media has even coined the term “moderate separatists”. When I heard the CRPF Jawans who were killed in the last terror attack in Srinagar (March 13) were without guns I called it murder. A Kashmiri “youth” responds that he would have loved a 1000 CRPF jawans to have died. Who’s the voice of young Kashmiris that RS talks about? The one in the tweet? Or is that a lie too? What evidence does RS or media have that most Kashmiri youth don’t think like this guy? Asking CRPF Jawans to fight terrorists with Lathis is the incremental nonsense that costs lives.
In an article in Firstpost, Praveen Swami notes how the Fiberals are damaging the cause of India’s fight against jihadis. Er… Where Fiberals are concerned can Macaulay Putri Sagarika Ghose can be far behind? In her article that Swami quotes she laments Muslims being targeted by Police. This is as Bimboesque as it can get as Swami himself explains. But she feels we are soft on “saffron terror”. Now, she doesn’t have the guts or the honesty to confront Islamic terror because if she rants about that she knows the consequences. And then, when the Hyderabad attacks happened she was tweeting about “meat shops”? Why she wants to play one community as a permanent victim and her many other goof-ups are reasons why RS should first sack her if he is serious about change or his slogan about “news not noise” not being as hollow as “waterless Holi” with deputy in the swimming pool. Does he really want change? No! He just wants us to think better of him. If he wants his reputation to go up, he must demonstrate that change. Mere slogans like “waterless Holi” won’t sell.
Today, many states are competing with each other on who provides lesser power-cuts. Some have 8 hours, some have 16 hours. Is that the incremental goal to be fought for? Then they compete on who gives more water-hours. Forty years ago someone came up with “Garibi Hatao” and we are still doing “Garibi Hatao”. That’s how incrementalism fails. In contrast, a young democracy came up with the “Green revolution” in agriculture. That’s a radical approach, a revolution it was called. Revolutions are not incremental. The late Verghese Kurien came up with “Operation flood” in milk. An “operation” is not a call for incrementalism it’s a call for radical change on war-footing.
It would be easy for critics to blame the television rating point system as the 'evil' responsible for the declining standards. Yes, weekly TRPs do reduce journalism at times to tabloid-like box office, but would a more sophisticated measurement of content really change the manner in which we choose to do news? The truth is, we have lost the moral compass that should define journalism's priorities. Maybe we have got carried away with our celebrity status, maybe just being on camera is a drug that prevents us from separating right from wrong and rediscovering our inner conscience.
Critics are not blaming the TRP system. The TV channels are blaming the TRP system and filing cases against it like NDTV did. If the confession that “we have got carried away with our celebrity status” has any honesty then let’s see some radical changes. Viewers will flock to the channel that brings in dramatic change and so will advertisers. Many surgeries seem to be routine or minor but they aren’t. All surgeries are radical changes to a body. The only way incrementalism works is physically. If there are stairs you can climb one step at a time. If you’re ill you can recover in stages. From a child to old-age is an incremental process. If you’re fat you can diet, exercise and lose weight in due course. “One day at a time” is a good line to quote because we are uncertain of the certainty of death which will one day visit us.
In the current state we are in, incrementalism will simply not work. Italy slaps us, Sri Lanka slaps us, Bangladesh snubs us, Maldives snubs us and Pakistan keeps bombing us here and there. These can’t be solved with incrementalism. Even after 26/11 we said let’s play cricket. Radiagate didn’t change the media one bit in anyway. It only changed the way consumers looked at news and the anchors. They started using terms like “Paid media” and “Dalal media”. So if RS speaks for his clan and wants to be respected, he had better start doing the good things first. And that will take radical change not slogans like “Garibi Hatao” or “News, not noise, sense, not sensationalism”. Is it easy? No! No revolution, no radical change is ever easy. Paradigm shifts cannot happen incrementally.